MRCI ditches walls and debuts vans in new program
Tami Reuter also seeks accessible restrooms for MRCI’s clients
Managed Resources Connection Incorporated (MRCI) has provided support and resources for individuals with disabilities in southern Minnesota for 65 years.
However, the organization is expanding to new frontiers this year through both an explorative day services program and the addition of inclusive resources, such as accessible restrooms, to the community.
MRCI offers a wide variety of services to its clients. An employment program connects clients with community-based jobs, a transition program helps individuals who are interested in exploring employment, but not sure if they are ready to commit to a job yet. Finally, home-based services provide fiscal management for individuals who want to self-direct their care at home.
MRCI’s latest program is a day services program which is purely focused upon connecting individuals with disabilities with the community. The MRCI hopes both its clients and local businesses and organizations can mutually benefit from sharing experiences with one another.
“It’s true community inclusion,” explains Tami Reuter, chief business marketing officer at MRCI. “We volunteer for and with the community.”
She continues, “We have groups with a one-to-four ratio; one staff member for every four clients. We plan activities on a daily basis, based on goals and what clients want to do.”
One of Reuter’s primary goals is for local businesses and organizations to share knowledge and skills with MRCI clients. This could include life skills such as managing money, strategies for healthy living such as exercising, or simply opportunities to interact with others.
However, Reuter believes the community can also learn much from MRCI’s clients.
“They have so many unique talents,” says Sarah Nageli, a day services coordinator for MRCI. “What we can share is great, too.”
MRCI has found a creative way to bring its clients into the community: vans.
“We are no longer bound by walls,” Reuter shares. “We no longer have a physical location. The community is our location.”
Reuter means this quite literally. With the inauguration of the day services program in January, MRCI gave up its physical location in the community entirely.
The day services program has no building, and instead is housed entirely by the community. A fleet of white vans transports clients to and from their daily destinations.
Reuter is thrilled with the success of the program so far.
“We’re no longer hiding our talents,” she explains. “We are truly embracing what the community has to offer, and sharing what we have to offer, as well.”
The daily destinations vary widely depending upon the goals and preferences of the individual group.
“This group has physical goals,” says Reuter of the two clients, Sarah Murray and Chris McCarty, who were present for the interview. In fact, they hopped in the van to head to the gym as soon as the interview was over.
“One group is really into history,” Reuter adds. “They have explored every historical place in southern Minnesota.”
“Now, with the vehicles, we are no longer limited by geography,” Reuter explains. “We can go anywhere. Geography is no longer a barrier.
After toppling this particular barrier, Reuter has begun to address other barriers MRCI’s clients face.
“Accessible restrooms are one of the barriers we have,” Reuter shares.
“As a mom of four kids, I’ve noticed you can go into every public bathroom and they all have changing stations,” she says. “Unfortunately, if you’re an adult who is wheelchair-bound, and need assistance going to the restroom, you are not given the same dignity.”
The issue has become magnified as the day services program, which takes place fully in the community, has expanded.
Nageli explains the difficulty of the situation. “If we are taking individuals out into the community, we want to see community accommodations. We need at least one bathroom in the area.”
“Providing the same level of dignity for everyone; that’s what we’re looking for,” Nageli adds. “It would be so nice to have those options in the community.”
Reuter brought the issue to the Blue Earth City Council at their last regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 7.
“We would like to bring to your attention an additional request for a possible use of the American Rescue Plan dollars,” Reuter said in a letter to city administrator Mary Kennedy.
“We are respectfully requesting that the city consider modifying or making accessible at least one of the public county buildings with an adult changing room,” she continued.
While the Council has not yet made any concrete plans to address the issue, they were receptive to Reuter’s ideas, and there is a possibility her words will enact change within the community.
“It would be a very good barrier to be lifted,” Nageli reasons.
Reuter adds, “We are just asking cities and counties to be leaders; to start the trend.”
Reuter figures if Blue Earth takes the lead in making accessibility a priority, other communities may follow.
In the meantime, Reuter is excited to continue enmeshing MRCI’s day services program within the community, and hopes community members will continue to seek ways to be involved.
“We’ve had some pretty amazing volunteers who have come to us,” Reuter says. “But, as we open opportunities to more individuals, we need more opportunities.”
As Reuter explains, those opportunities are not possible without participation from the community.
Those who are interested in volunteering or working with MRCI can visit
mymrci.org, or call Nageli at 507-508-2259.
Cheri Leiding, a day services specialist, could not endorse her time with the program more highly.
“I’m going to work, but it’s not really work,” Leiding says. “It’s just exploring with friends.”
“We’re still thriving,” Nageli adds. “We’re just doing something different.”